DDR4 Memory

Will the Latest Generation of PC Memory Impact PC's Much?

Crucial DDR4 Memory
Crucial DDR4 Memory. ©Micron

DDR3 memory has been used in the PC world for many years now. In fact, it seems to have been the longest of the double data rate memory standards to date. This has been a boon to consumers as it has meant relatively affordable memory prices but it also means for the past couple of years that our computers have been restricted by the speed of the memory. This is particular more apparent as we start doing more demanding tasks like desktop video editing and using faster storage such as solid state drives.

With the release of the Intel X99 chipset and Haswell-E processors and now 6th Generation Intel Core processors, DDR4 is now becoming standard for use in personal computers. The standards were developed back in 2012 but it has been several years for those standards to finally make it to market. So let's find out what changes this new memory standard will bring to the PC.

Faster Speeds

Just as with the introduction of the DDR3 standards, DDR4 is primarily to address faster speeds. Unlike the DDR2 to DDR3 transition though, the speed jumps are going to be a bit more because it has taken so long for DDR4 to be adopted by the industry. The fastest JDEC standard DDR3 memory right now runs at 1600MHz. In contrast, the new DDR4 memory speeds start at 2133MHz which is a 33-percent speed increase. Sure, there is DDR3 memory that is available at speeds upwards of 3000MHz but this is overclocked memory that is running past the standard and with much higher power requirements.

The JDEC standards for DDR4 also specify up to the 3200MHz speed which is double the current DDR3 1600MHz limit.

As with other generation jumps, the increased speeds also means an increase in latencies. Latency refers to how long it takes the memory controller to essentially take a command to access memory and actually reading or writing to the memory modules.

The faster than memory gets, the more cycles it tends to take for the controller to process it. The thing is with the higher clock speeds, the increased latencies generally do not impact the overall performance because of the increased bandwidth for communicating the data in memory to the CPU.

Lower Power Consumption

The power that computers consumes is a major issue particularly when you look at the mobile computer market. The less power that is consumed, the longer a device can run on batteries. As with each generation of DDR memory, DDR4 once again reduces the amount of power required to operate. This time, the voltage levels have dropped from 1.5 volts to 1.2 volts. This may not seem like much but it can make a big difference with laptop systems. Just like DDR3, DDR4 will likely get a low-voltage standard as well that allows for even lower power requirements for those systems designed to use this memory type.

Can I Upgrade My PC to DDR4 Memory?

Back in the transition from DDR2 to DDR3 memory, CPU and chipset architecture was much different. This meant that some of the motherboards from the era had the ability to run either DDR2 or DDR3 on the same motherboard. This allowed you to get a desktop computer system with the more affordable DDR2 and then upgrade the memory to DDR3 without having to replace the motherboard or CPU.

These days, the memory controllers are built into the CPU. As a result, there is not going to be any transition hardware that can use both DDR3 and the new DDR4. If you want to have a computer that uses DDR4, you will have to upgrade the entire systems or at least the motherboard, CPU and memory.

To ensure that people do not try to use the DDR4 memory with DDR3 based systems, a new DIMM package has been designed. They are the same length as the previous DDR3 modules but it has a higher number of pins. DDR4 now uses 288-pins compared to the previous 240-pins at least for desktop systems. Laptop computers will also face a similar size but with a 260-pin SO-DIMM layout compared to the 204-pin design for DDR3.

In addition to the pin layout, the notch for the modules will be in a different position to prevent modules from being installed in the DDR3 designed slots.